Category Archives: Mongolia

Day 46 – Thursday, August 13th – Darkhan, Mongolia to Ulan Ude, Russia (345 km – total to date 8,474 km)

This was a crazy day starting with our wake up call at 4 a.m. Our rough and ready (Kiwi) hotel in Darkhan had a breakfast of one white bun, one fried egg and a plate of processed cheese slices (I am so proud of our gourmet breakfasts at Abigail’s Hotel, thank you Matt and Victoria for all your creativity and hard work).  Like the true chefs we are, we improvised and made Egg McMuffins. By 5:30 a.m. we had left our hotel and were heading to the borders, first we had to get approval to exit  Mongolia at their border crossing and then move forward a few meters to get approval to enter into Russia at their  border crossing. As we got closer to the border crossings the terrain changed to a flat plateau area with small pine trees and small scattered bushes.  There was no longer the lush green grass; it appeared very dry and was very windy. This is kinda like I expected Siberia to look like.

 

As we lined up for the Mongolian border crossing we noticed a man with his pants down around his knees and he had on a pair of black pantyhose.  His wife was stuffing his pantyhose with clothing and I do not mean just a couple of items.  She packed this stuff into him, as much as the pantyhose could hold. Then she punched the bulges down as flat as she could and proceeded to wind a piece of cloth around him to smooth out the bumps and then wrapped that cloth with duck tape turning him around and around.  It was hilarious! They were doing this right beside us and the border patrol people could see them as well as us. She helps him pull up his pants and he can barely walk because the clothes are stuffed down his legs as well around his back and stomach.  This man grew from about 175 pounds into about 250 pounds in just a couple of minutes, they really had the procedure down to a science. He puts on a tunic for his top and he looks very odd with a small head, hands and feet yet a huge body.  Then we start looking around at most of the Mongolians lined up to go across the border and they are all really, really fat and waddling around! One lady kept bending over to put her purse down and her top lifted up and you could see stuff wrapped around her backside sticking up from under her top. It was a little surreal, here we are lined up to go through the Russian Border and we were told not to take any photos; not to look suspicious; do not joke around and make sure all our paperwork is ready to show the officers and all the Mongolians are blatantly smuggling clothes and purses under their clothes into Russia.

 

It took us a mere three and one-half hours to get through these borders. It was a good thing we had such good entertainment.  We watched the people walking like penguins having all their bags x-rayed and being passed through with no problem. Every person has to go single file into a booth to get their passports stamped, then have their bags x-rayed at the Mongolian Border and at the Russian Border the crossing guards come out to look at the cars individually and at the luggage but our guard decided we did not have to pull our luggage out to be x-rayed.  Lucky for us because the car in front of us had to pull everything out and take their luggage into a little shed to be x-rayed and looked over; then they had to put everything back into their car again. Our crossing guard didn’t want to check our luggage because it was cold and windy outside and we had so much luggage. She just wanted to get back inside her little office, thank goodness for that. There was also a doctor that stood beside a guard at the final crossing and asked our guide Ksenia questions about our health. This was interesting because if someone was sick I do not suppose they would tell the doctor about it but one never knows!

 

Russia is one hour ahead of Mongolia’s time. So we set our watches and then met our new Russian driver Sergey. There was an immediate change as we entered Russia.  The look and feel was different, more permanent and slightly more organized. Women are well groomed and wear makeup, hydro poles were made of cement, roads were very good and 99% of the homes are wooden houses with wooden fences. Inside their fenced yard are vegetable gardens and sometimes flowers. The houses are still unpainted wood but they have decorative window frames with shutters that are painted different colours. Most of them are painted blue with white trim because they have a superstition that blue equals the sky which equals heaven and when they close their shutters at night they will still be able to see the sky and therefore the heavens. Most of the houses have three windows facing the street and there are decorative wooden shapes above. These are remnants of Shamanism and the decorations were used to ward off evil spirits that could enter your house through a door or window. They believed that when you have these decorations above the door and window frames  evil spirits could not enter. Some of the houses have 6 or 5 windows facing the street and these houses are duplexes. Two families live there, one on each side (we have that in Canada as well). The only difference is when the owner of one side wants to move they take their half of the house with them to another spot! 

 

Shamanism was followed by both the Mongolians and some Russians.  It was believed that Shamans had certain powers and could communicate with the super natural. By having these powers they could cure disease and suffering. Plus they could  increase good luck and wealth. A male Shaman is known as a Zairan Boo and a female is known as a Udgan.  Ghengis Khan practiced Shamanism. In 1578 Shamanism was forbidden in both Russia and Mongolia to allow Buddhism to grow. Now only a small portion of Russian and Mongolian people believe in Shamanism.

 

As we moved further into Russia the terrain reminded us very much like driving from Vancouver to the Okanagan, complete with the pine beetle sections in their forests.  At times the terrain would change and look like the Caribou with beautiful purple flowers covering a mountainside.  Their forests have Siberian Pines which have dark bark that peels off to a yellow colour  much like our Arbutus Trees back home.  They also have Birch, Elm and Alder trees.

 

For dinner our first night in Russia, Temuujin our Mongolian guide, brought his neice and nephew (and nephew’s girlfriend) to meet us.  They were lovely and from Columbia, South America.  Temuujin had not seen them since they were babies and he was very excited and proud to have them visit him.  Their father is Mongolian (Temuujin’s brother) and their mother is Columbian. At the present time they are going to University in Moscow.  It took them four days by train to get to this city, Darkhan, to meet up with their uncle Temuujin! Tomorrow he is taking them to UlaanBaatar, Mongolia, to meet their grandparents and relatives.

Day 45 – Wednesday, August 12th, UlaanBaatar to Darkhan (228 km – total to date 8,129 km)

We had planned on leaving UlaanBaatar  (U.B.) at 9 a.m. as we were going north towards Siberia and having our last stop in Mongolia at a city called Darkhan.  We finally got our act together and left at 10:30 a.m. Ksenia, our guide demonstrated great patience with us while she waited.  One of the reasons were we so late in leaving was that a service attendant at a gas station had put 65 pounds of air into our tires when they should only have 42 pounds of air. Russ had to find the air gauge and fix each tire! (Communication problem).

 

As we left U.B. and travelled along the countrside we noticed more houses and less Gers, although there were still plenty of Gers.  The wooden houses and fences are all unpainted wood but the roofs which look like corrugated tin.  (You know the wavy up and down look  inside of a piece of cardboard). I was thinking that it would get pretty noisy inside the houses when it rained with all these tin roofs but I was corrected.  The material is not tin but a composite of materials (probably heated to mix together) and is hard like ceramic which explains why the roofs come in different colours. The colours signify the position of the family in the community. Red is for government employees or a very wealthy person.

 

We drove through a valley just outside U.B.  and you couldn’t help noticing how beautiful it was.  Lush  green grass on both sides of the highway with rolling hills (small mountains) that looked like green velvet. Every once in awhile there would be a white Ger and their livestock scattered up the hill.  Always the blue skies! The scenery was postcard perfect and I was sorry to be leaving Mongolia.

 

In one spot, there was an outcropping of trees growing in bunches on top of the rolling hills and the scenery looked like the English countryside. We were expecting the rock walls and hedges used by the English to pen in their sheep, but  of course the countryside of Mongolia is all open.  Only the houses in villages and cities have fences around them and the fences are used to keep the animals out because animals are free to wonder about even in the villages. As we got closer to the Russian border the wooden houses increased and the number of Gers decreased, plus there were vegetable gardens, stables and greenhouses.  This indicated to us that these people (perhaps Russians) in these villages stayed put over the winter and were no longer inhabited by nomads.

 

At one point we drove off the highway for a pee break and noticed a little boy off in the distance beside a Ger.  Temuujin, called out to him because we wanted to give him a hat.  His mother came out of the Ger and they both walked over to us. She told us that her family was there for the summer but they were moving soon to go back to the middle of the Gobi Desert for the winter.  It takes them 15 days to get to their winter home. They have 500 animals and no camels.  They have 10 cows and the rest are sheep and goats.  They come to this spot because of all the grass. Her husband has a truck and that is how they move their Ger.  The little boy who looked around 6 or 7 years old was responsible for all the baby goats and they had 80 of them!! She also told us that she was responsible for all the milking.  The cows were milked twice a day and the goats were milked at night. We gave them both hats and a colouring book and crayons for the little boy.

 

When we got back on the highway we noticed that we were not the only ones appreciating the beautiful scenery, people were bathing in a river and having picnics.  We even saw a field of Sunflowers.  It looked amazing just because it was so unexpected! We finally arrived at Darkhan which is the 3rd largest ciry in Mongolia. Population of 75,000 and was meant to be the manufacturing center in Mongolia but after the collapse of the Soviet Union many of the industries failed. Hence Darkhan is a rough and ready town and so was the hotel. Hard bed, lumpy pillows, paint peeling off the ceiling, no shower and no hot water.  But having said all that it was clean and safe. The best thing about this stop was the fact that we had to be up at 4 a.m. to prepare for our border crossing into Russia. 

 

At our Mongolian farewell dinner Temuujin, taught us a Mongolian toast. You dip your ring finger of your left hand into your vodka and then flick the vodka out towards your friends saying “Good will to family and friends” then you dip your same finger again and flick out saying “Blessings to your country that it may be prosperous” repeat and say “Blessing that there will be peace in the world” then you touch your forehead with this same ring finger and everyone downs their vodka. 

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